Jovan Blacksher Jr., Taeshon Cherry lead Grand Canyon in rout of Abilene Christian

·4 min read

Abilene Christian came into the basketball game Thursday night, forcing an NCAA Division I-leading 23 turnovers a game.

But it hadn't seen a backcourt like Jovan Blacksher Jr., and Holland Woods II before.

Grand Canyon's guards surgically dismantled Abilene Christian in the paint and on the perimeter, leading the Antelopes to a 95-68 rout of last year's NCAA Tournament round of 32 team before and electric crowd at GCU Arena.

If this was a statement game against the new school to the Western Athletic Conference, the Antelopes (13-2, 4-0) let it be known that they're still a front-runner to get back to the NCAA Tournament for a second straight year.

That's if it can keep playing like it has in the past two Thursdays.

After shooting 58% in a 14-point win at Texas Rio Grande Valley last week, GCU shot 60% in the first half against ACU, building a 50-37 halftime lead. The halftime break didn't cool the Lopes down. They ended up making 63% of their shots (34 of 54), their best shooting percentage in a WAC game since joining the league nine years ago.

The Lopes made 52% of their 3-pointers (13 of 25). They also limited the Wildcats on the glass, winning the rebound margin 39-22.

"We really shot the ball well in our home gym," coach Bryce Drew said. "It was nice to be back home. It was our third game in 23 days and the second game here in that time span.

"It was tremendous to have the students (the Havocs) back just with the energy in the building. Our guys definitely fed off that."

Jan 13, 2022; Phoenix, AZ, United States; GCU's Sean Miller-Moore (0) claps after a turnover from Abilene Christian during a game at GCU Arena. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Breen- The Republic
Jan 13, 2022; Phoenix, AZ, United States; GCU's Sean Miller-Moore (0) claps after a turnover from Abilene Christian during a game at GCU Arena. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Breen- The Republic

They want to match the student section's energy on Saturday night at 7 when the Lopes finally get on prime time for a nationally televised ESPNU game against Tarleton State.

"It's crazy," said forward Taeshon Cherry, who had his best game as an Antelope with 16 points, his best game in maybe two years when he was at Arizona State. "GCU wasn't that well known at first. Now we're going to be on ESPNU."

Blacksher had 15 of his 19 points in the first half. Woods had nine points and five assists in the half. Woods made 4 of 10 3-pointers and finished with 12 points. Blacksher and Woods each had six assists and only one turnover apiece.

Blacksher didn't have his fist turnover until a little more than seven minutes remained and the Lopes led by 22.

They knew they had to quickly work the ball around against a team that tries to force teams into rushing shots. Blacksher and Woods were wizards, finding each other for open looks, and getting the ball inside for dunks.

"I credit the coaching staff," Blacksher said. "They prepared us well. We watched tons of film. We knew how they played, In practices, they threw us into those situations."

Abilene Christian and GCU both transitioned from Division II to Division I nine years ago. But ACU did something GCU still hopes for — winning a first round NCAA Tournament game last year.

The Wildcats return several players from that team.

But the Lopes' toughness on the boards was a big difference.

"We need to rebound the basketball," Drew said. "The games that we didn't, we really struggles. I'm proud of the way our guys attacked the offensive glass and the defensive glass."

This was ACU's third straight loss after going 11-2 to start the season and 2-0 in the WAC. Stevie Smith, a 6-foot-6 guard, led the Wildcats with 14 points.

"Their three starting perimeter players are fifth-year seniors," Drew said. "A lot experience, a lot of wins in that program. That's a winning culture, a winning program with very experienced players. I think our guys knew how good they were and how good they've been this year, winning 11 in a row."

Everybody was on the mark shooting the ball for GCU.

Cherry came off the bench and scored nine straight points during one spurt in the second half, knocking down two NBA-range 3-pointers. Cherry had 16 points, making 3 of 4 3-pointers.

Reserve guard Jayden Stone had his biggest game as an Antelope, scoring 14 points on 5 of 6 shooting.

Blacksher Jr., and Woods II were maestros. They calmly moved the ball around to open teammates for high-percentage shots to get the Antelopes going early.

Jan 13, 2022; Phoenix, AZ, United States; GCU's Jovan Blacksher Jr. (10) dribbles up the court against Abilene Christian's Damien Daniels (4) during a game at GCU Arena. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Breen- The Republic
Jan 13, 2022; Phoenix, AZ, United States; GCU's Jovan Blacksher Jr. (10) dribbles up the court against Abilene Christian's Damien Daniels (4) during a game at GCU Arena. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Breen- The Republic

GCU knocked down 60.7% of its shots in the first half and nailed 6 of 13 3-pointers, while taking care of the boards.

The Lopes didn't allow the Wildcats to have a second-chance point in the first half, when ACU shot 43.8% and made 5 of 14 3-pointers.

GCU also got the Wildcats into the bonus early in the half and made 10 of 14 free throws.

To suggest human-interest story ideas and other news, reach Obert at richard.obert@arizonarepublic.com or 602-316-8827. Follow him on Twitter @azc_obert.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Blacksher Jr., Cherry lead Grand Canyon in rout of Abilene Christian

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